Not Abilene. This couldn’t be happening. Please tell me I am anywhere but Abilene. Exhausted and incredulous, Jennie Ryan stepped from the plane which should have carried her from medical school in Boston back home to Idaho for a two week vacation before her internship began. Instead, a freak storm had forced the plane down here. Of all places in the country. Abilene, Kansas. It’s all right, she tried to reassure herself. She didn’t have to see Bryce. Abilene was a big town. This was not fate or anything like it--just a random forced landing. And she wouldn’t give it any more meaning than that. It didn’t matter that Bryce was getting married tomorrow, a fact she knew only because some busybody friends at school insisted on keeping her informed of Bryce’s doings--whether she wanted to hear or not. The marriage didn’t matter, only that she wasn’t still at the airport when the happy couple left for their honeymoon. She’d be out of here way before then. Jennie followed a businessman down the ramp. He muttered about the delay in a big computer deal. Behind her an older woman cried because she would miss her sister’s 50th anniversary party. Jennie was too tired to either cry or mutter. Place one foot in front of the other. That’s all. Jostled by the crowd as she entered the airport, she followed the businessman, who seemed the type of person who could get things accomplished. He strode toward a counter with a long line of people waiting--as there were in front of every counter she could see down the length of the concourse. As a blue-uniformed woman walked past, Jennie snagged her arm. The business man turned today Jennie. “When can I get a flight out of here?” Jennie asked. “I’m sorry, but this storm has closed down the entire airport. There will be no flights leaving for at least a few hours.” The woman looked as tired as Jennie felt, and she’d obviously forced the smile on her face. “And there is no guarantee when they’ll start up again.” Hours? Stuck in Abilene? “You’re kidding,” the businessman echoed Jennie’s thoughts, only with more decibels. “I can’t sit around here. I’ll take my business elsewhere.” The woman shrugged. “I wish I could help you. You can talk with the other airlines if you’d prefer, but they can’t take off, either.” If Jennie couldn’t fly out of town, she’d drive. She’d been in this airport before, and she knew where to find the rental car booth. Leaving the man behind her, she crossed the length of the airport, now muttering. She passed a huge line of people before her foggy brain registered the fact that they were all waiting for a rental car. Disheartened, she started back toward the end of the line, but hadn’t reached it before a woman called out, “I’m sorry, folks. We just rented our last car.” No rental cars, either? Jennie sighed. She needed sleep. She’d been up for one hundred hours a week for the last month, during her emergency room training, and she could barely think straight. She probably wasn’t safe behind the wheel, anyway. Hopefully the airport shuttle was still working but, even if it wasn’t, surely she could catch a cab. She’d let someone drive her to a hotel somewhere, get some sleep, and find a way out of town when she was rested enough to think of one. Jennie passed a bank of telephones. Before she began this running around, she’d better call her mother and let her know she wouldn’t be home for at least a day or two, even longer if she had to drive back to Idaho. Turning to go back and collect her suitcase from the carousel, she bumped into someone. “Sorry,” she said automatically. Startled, Jennie looked down into the eyes of the old woman who’d sold her and Bryce the painting the year before. Charity Beaumont. “My word, Jennie Ryan, is that you?” Charity’s familiar face crinkled into an excited smile. “The storm did bring you into Abilene after all? Well, this is the day. You must come and stay with me, my dear. I insist. I have to hear all about whatever destiny brought you here today.” Jennie shook her head and couldn’t respond. The older woman was delusional. There was a much simpler explanation. Not destiny. Not fate. Not anything but a horrible, ironic accident that proved God does have a sense of humor.
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